When my friend sent me a Facebook chat message of Relient K’s upcoming tour schedule a few months back, I felt an instant mix of excitement, anticipation and nostalgia. Like most Relient K fans my age, I found the band through their 2001 sophomore record, The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek, and its lead single, “Pressing On,” an anthemic pop-punk number that paid homage to the band’s key influences such as Blink-182 and NOFX. The album remained in my Walkman for several weeks at a time as I absorbed and memorized the tracks that covered a variety of topics such as the Sadie Hawkins dance, Thundercats and moments of faith and spirituality.
The band continued this winning formula through its next release, Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right…But Three Do, but it was 2004’s MMHMM on Capitol Records that brought them the mainstream attention that fans believed was long overdue. “Be My Escape” and “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” shot the band into the modern rock and pop charts and they hit the late night TV circuit as well as tours with contemporaries Good Charlotte and New Found Glory.
As a fan, I noticed that lead singer Matt Thiessen began to incorporate influences beyond the pop-punk formula, adding piano and harmonies to songs that echoed the Beach Boys and Ben Folds Five. Their fifth record, the aptly-titled Five Score and Seven Years Ago, also cemented their MTV audience with singles such as “Must Have Done Something Right” and “The Best Thing”. They maintained their humor with the short “Crayons Can Melt On Us For All I Care”, which had a single line (“I just wasted ten seconds of your life”), but they also created their most epic song to date called “Deathbed”, an eleven-minute retelling of an elderly man’s life that featured guest vocals by Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman.
In between this album and 2009’s Forget And Not Slow Down, I saw Relient K play a show in October 2008 at Workplay Theatre as part of the Uncle Festour. I was ecstatic to see songs from my youth played live and sang along to every word. They even debuted a few songs from the upcoming record, and I hoped that they would return again for that album’s promotion. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen and the band’s music was featured on my daily playlist less and less.
Fast forward four and a half years and I am standing in the middle of Zydeco along with a large crowd of eager fans to witness Relient K’s return to the Magic City. I arrived late, but was able to catch the last song (“Noises”) by the first act, Michigan-based Mike Mains and the Branches, whose sophomore album was produced by Relient K’s lead guitarist, Matt Hoopes. The song is catchy enough for me to file the band away for further investigation after the show is over.
Next up is singer/songwriter William Beckett. Armed with a guitar and a pedal filled with prerecorded bass, drum and lead guitar tracks, Beckett is confident and gregarious, telling stories between each song; “Scarlett” is jokingly about his “soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, Scarlett Johansson” and “Benny and June” is about two “oddballs” who fall for each other. Beckett pauses to tell a story about mistaking a movie title for his dad’s stutter and then launches into a song he co-wrote with Matt Thiessen called “Slipping Away.” He finishes his set with “Great Night”. Before starting the song, he tells the soundman to make sure the second microphone is working. At the beginning of the second verse, Thiessen comes out to loud cheers and applause from the audience, whetting their appetite for Relient K’s upcoming set.
The third act, Hellogoodbye, enters the stage next. Like Relient K, Hellogoodbye also enjoyed success during the mid-2000s with a string of well-received albums that played to the indie rock crowd. I did not realize how guitar driven the band was until I saw their set, mainly since the only song I knew from the band was their breakout hit, “Here (In Your Arms)”. The band’s energy is undeniable and they interact with crowd very well; however, the vocals during the songs are barely audible, something noticed by several of my neighboring audience members. After charging through a slew of tunes from their latest release, Would It Kill You?, the band ends the set with their aforementioned best-known song.
Finally, Relient K comes out to the loudest screams and cheers of the night and immediately launch into a rendition of “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” followed by fellow MMHMM track, “High of 75.” Thiessen stops briefly to joyfully greet the audience and mention that he is glad that the tour has begun in Birmingham. The next few songs seem to be grouped together by albums such as “Mood Rings” and “In Love with The 80s” from Two Lefts… and “Candlelight” and “Sahara” from Forget And Not Slow Down. The band even manages to throw in “The Lining Is Silver” from their rarities record, The Birds and The B-Sides. The biggest star of the night besides the band comes on stage following the performance of a new song called “Boomerang”. The twenty-something fan had tweeted Thiessen and asked to take a “prom photo” with the singer. Thiessen obliges and the fans eat it up. The next few songs are acoustic with “The Best Thing” being dedicated to another set of Twitter followers celebrating their one-year anniversary as a married couple. The rest of the set features new and old tunes, including rarely played (at least these days) fan favorites such as “Pressing On” and “Sadie Hawkins Dance”, showcasing Relient K’s dedication to their loyal fans. The encore starts out with new song “Don’t Blink” from their forthcoming and highly anticipated seventh album, Collapsible Lung.
The show is a success mainly because the band plays songs that the fans desperately want to hear. Hopefully, they will return to Birmingham sooner than five years next time.
For more information on the band, visit www.relientk.com.